Black Mesa Mine
shut down Dec. 31, 2005, when its sole customer, the Mohave
Generating Station in Laughlin Nev., had to close after
failing to comply with clean-up requirements it had agreed
to six years earlier.
Power plant operators formally announced in June that
compliance would be too expensive, so Mohave would not
The Salt River Project, owner of a minority interest
in Mohave, has announced that it is interested in reopening
the plant and making the needed improvements.
The giant Phoenix utility got together with Peabody
Western Coal, Co., operator of the two mines, and Black
Mesa Pipeline Inc., to ask federal regulators to resume
the process of granting an extended permit to mine coal
on Black Mesa.
Scott Harelson, SRP spokesman, stressed the company
is pursuing an interest in Mohave only – not the mines.
And even that is tentative.
"They’re just plans," he said. "We’re still in the
process of trying to form a new ownership group. We
really don’t have anything to report."
Harelson added that SRP hopes to have a new ownership
group formed by early 2007.
Beth Sutton, Peabody spokeswoman, said the company
is exploring different options for potential coal customers.
"We’re exploring discussions with both tribes (Navajo
and Hopi) looking at multiple tracks of coal related
opportunities," she said.
"On the one hand there is the ongoing discussion with
Mohave…at the same time we’re also pursuing other opportunities
to use the Black Mesa reserve," she said.
But SRP, along with Peabody and Black Mesa Pipeline Inc.,
has already petitioned OSM to allow them to reopen and
expand the Black Mesa complex, which consists of the two
In addition, they propose to construct a coal-washing
facility, increase the amount of coal produced by the
mines, build a 108-mile-long pipeline from the Coconino
aquifer in Leupp, Ariz., to Black Mesa, and rebuild
the 273-mile slurry pipeline that moves coal from Black
Mesa to Mohave.
George Hardeen, spokesman for President Joe Shirley
Jr., regarded the plans with optimism.
"Peabody’s been a good neighbor to the Navajo Nation
through employment and certainly the royalties paid
to the Navajo Nation," he said. "We’d like to see that
relationship continue if possible."
According to the draft report, the expansion would
generate 480 new jobs and royalties of around $37.0
million for the Navajo Nation.
When the mine and power plant shut down last year,
it resulted in the loss of around 400 jobs.
But expanding the mine would also require the relocation
of 17 Navajo families for at least 20 years, decrease
air quality, and endanger already-endangered species
of fish in the Little Colorado.
OSM acknowledged it would also cause the depletion
and possible contamination of local groundwater levels,
among other things.
Environmentalists said it’s not a fair trade-off.
Andy Bessler, Southwest representative for the Sierra
Club, said pumping out so much ground water – an estimated
minimum 6,000 acre-feet per year – for industrial uses
That would be a 36 percent increase over the 4,400
acre-feet of water Peabody and the pipeline were authorized
to use under the existing permit, he said.
"It would use a lot of water, that’s the problem. In
the Southwest it’s a crime,” he said. “The scope of
its impact on the users of the C aquifer is tremendous."
In August 2003, while Black Mesa was still in operation,
the Navajo Nation Council passed a resolution barring
Peabody from the Navajo aquifer by the end of 2005.
The Hopi Tribal Council passed a similar resolution.
It was the first time any council had asserted its
position against industrial pumping. Despite intense
pressure from Shirley, the miners’ union, Peabody and
the utilities that own Mohave, neither tribal council
has changed its position.
The draft EIS assumes that the C aquifer would be used
to sustain the Black Mesa complex, an idea that is opposed
by Leupp residents and border towns that rely on the
aquifer for drinking water. But the draft EIS also leaves
open the notion of "some supplemental use of water from
the N aquifer."
And should the pipeline from the C aquifer broke down,
OSM recommends that the N aquifer once again become
the sole water source for the mines, which would remain
in operation until 2026.
"We recognize there have been concerns about the continued
used of the Navajo aquifer for mining and traditionally
have agreed to disagree," Sutton said.
The aquifers provide water to approximately 40,000
Navajos and Hopis in the Black Mesa area.
Public meetings to discuss the draft EIS will be held
Jan. 2 in Window Rock from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Navajo
Nation Museum; Jan. 3 in Moenkopi, Ariz., from 6 p.m.
to 9 p.m. at the community center; Jan. 4 in Kayenta,
Ariz., at Monument Valley High School and in Kykotsmovi,
Ariz., from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the veterans center;
Jan. 9 in Leupp, Ariz., from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the
chapter house; Jan. 10 in Winslow, Ariz., from 6 p.m.
to 9 p.m. at Winslow High School; Jan. 10 in Laughlin
from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Laughlin Town Hall; and
Jan. 11 in Flagstaff from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Little
Navajo translators will be provided.
Public comments on the draft EIS are due by Jan. 22,
OSM said it anticipates that the
final EIS would be distributed to the public in July
2007 and decisions on the various components of the
Black Mesa Project (by OSM, the tribes, and other federal
agencies) would be forthcoming in August 2007.